Sunday, July 31, 2016

Azure

She fell from the sky
When it became washed out white
in the sun
I said,
Never saw the sun shining so bright.
Take heart, there’s always another night
And clouds
They can’t stay gone too long
Grey skies
They’ll come again before long
She:
Some blue would be alright
With fluffy clouds and bouncing
What I can’t handle is desert light
So bright I can’t pronounce it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From Temptation to Sin 2 (Genesis 3:6-8)

Verse six is the textbook description of temptation as it shows the three avenues temptation takes to infiltrate and destroy lives. Through the desires flesh or appetites, the appeal of the eyes or esthetic pleasure, and the pride humanity feels for itself. These exact three means were used in the temptation of Christ in the dessert by the devil, (a hint as to the identity of the serpent?) and are seen again in I John 2:16. This passage shows a deep understanding of the way temptation works, both in everyday situations as well as the first temptation humanity faced.

It wasn’t just the woman facing temptation and choosing to sin here. The passage tells us that the man was with her. Whether or not this happened right after the dialogue with the serpent or sometime later (the conversation with the serpent did not happen next to the tree) is unclear. In any case, they arrive at the tree together and Adam raises no objections nor attempts to stop her. They had either heard the serpent together or discussed the issue and chosen to go have a closer look at the forbidden fruit.

The immediate consequence of their sin is not literal death (“you will die death”) but a new understanding. They do indeed experience evil in contrast to the great good God had surrounded them with, and they are instantly changed. And not for the better. They are ashamed. Their relationship to each other and their “self-esteem” or comfort in their own skin is destroyed. Most importantly, they now for the first time fear God. The level of “fear” or respect for Him that was lacking and allowed them to disregard His law in an effort to supplant Him is now in full effect. They know that they are not gods, and that they are in dire trouble.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Up Side

people able
hopeless fable
guilt bear, grief share
silent prayer, weep

seen as sable
price unable
jewel rare, sole heir
wooden chair, leap

steeple, stable
oval table
thin air, horn blare
spiral stair, sheep

Monday, July 25, 2016

Faith: The Vine and the Branches 3 (John 15:1-8)

Our Power in Christ (abiding in Him) vv4-7

Jesus tells us that the source of our power, the way to reproduction, is in our abiding in Him. We need the relationship with Christ, not simply the understanding that He died for us. And that relationship exists in obedience.

I Peter 1:1, 2. Peter describes the followers of Jesus as aliens. They are fully other than those in the world around them. (Jesus expands on this idea as well, later in John chapter 15.) He goes on to explain what makes Christians that way. They are CHOSEN by God. It is nothing they did themselves or any special status they have earned. It is literally a choice made out of grace. They have been SPRINKLED by the blood of Christ that washes them clean from their sin, allowing them to relate to a Holy God. They are SANCTIFIED through the work of the Holy Spirit that changes them and causes them to grow more and more into the person God intends for them to be each day. AND, they are saved (CHOSEN, WASHED, and made HOLY) in order to obey Christ. Obedience does not save us. But obedience is that for which we are saved.

That is what becoming a Christian is about really. In light of what Christ has done to bring us back into a right relationship with our creator, we surrender back into that relationship. We embark on a path of obedience, and follow the instructions that we discover daily with the help of the Holy Spirit. We trust and obey.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"The Big Short" (2015)

Much like “Moneyball,” “The Big Short” takes a book that is not a traditional movie-style story, and presents it in a creative, compelling fashion. Plenty of fourth-wall-breakage, celebrity cameos explaining financial concepts, and fictional characters taking the place of real-life-people add up to an interesting, fresh film experience.

The main thing learned after watching it is that, apparently, bankers like to cuss… a lot.

But the other thing this film teaches us is that conventional wisdom, especially where it concerns the economy in recent years, can be terribly, tragically wrong. And despite the crash of less than a decade ago, things may have not gotten any better.

The film tracks the story of a handful of financial types back in the mid-oughts who saw the fact that the American economy was built upon lies. Namely, that credit—that American foundational value that has everyone believing that you can buy now and pay later—was being given out recklessly and with complete abandon because rich people were able to get richer buying and selling loans like a commodity while poor people were being sold a lie. The lie was that everyone had a right to own a house, or houses, regardless of whether or not they could afford it.

“The Big Short” shows us that there is no limit to the capacity of collective ignorance, and that people will hate you for speaking a truth that is unpopular.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Stranger Things" 2016

What does it say that for 2016—the year that saw the return of my favorite TV show of all time—my likely favorite show of the year will not be the X Files? “Stranger Things” is an amazingly entertaining yarn in the style of the classic 1980s movies that inspired The X Files in the first place. And while I have a nostalgic yearning for the more innocent days of The X Files, my longing for the days when I was eleven and Hollywood discovered my generation and created some of the best movies ever is even stronger.

Those were the days before helicopter parenting, world-wide connectivity and millennials thinking that the world existed for their benefit. When my generation were preteens we didn’t have the bubble-gum, plastic trash that passes for preteen entertainment today. We were in the middle of a World War—albeit a cold one—science and science fiction had a blurry boundary, and we could go hours and seemingly days without adult interference. It seemed plausible that eleven-year-olds could save the world and in movies like “The Goonies,” “E.T,” and “Cloak and Dagger” we did.

Stranger Things gives us all of that again, and in convincing fashion because it is a well-done period piece set in 1983. The Cold War scientists are experimenting with ESP and telekinesis and unwittingly open a portal to another dimension, unleashing a monster onto an unsuspecting small town. While the whole world reels at some tragic deaths and disappearances but accepts the “official versions” of what is happening, a small band of twelve-year-olds, family members, and a lone cop begin to uncover the truth.

One of the most compelling aspects of this story is the exploration of faith. Not the Christian faith in this case, but the broader concept. The conviction of something you know and are convinced of based on evidence you have seen, but that you nevertheless can’t prove to anyone else. Wynona Rider plays Joyce, the mother of a boy who has disappeared. She becomes convinced that her son is communicating to her supernaturally, and even later when his body is found, she holds onto her belief that he is not really dead. She knows that she cannot prove what she believes, and that she may indeed be crazy, but she persists. Others too begin to see things that don’t make sense but remain open to unconventional possibilities and begin to uncover the truth. In classic horror-fiction tradition, once they all come together and compare notes—become a community of faith as it were—things start to add up.

This story is delightful, the musical score and songs selected wonderful, the art direction and images striking, and the acting here is great. If you can handle 1980s style kids with potty-mouths, teens making poor decisions and facing consequences for them, and imaginary powers such as telekinesis in your fiction, this may be the show for you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From Temptation to Sin 1 (Genesis 3:1-5)

In chapter three we move to the choice of man to supplant God. Sin enters creation and God’s plan for man, found in the garden is rejected. Man is banished and God sets a salvation plan in motion to recover (achieve?) His original plan.

“Serpent” is the first key word in this verse. Nachash simply means snake or serpent. This serpent stands out, however, due to his role in the fall. The story itself highlights the serpent in describing something of its character, which is something the Biblical Hebrew text seldom does. Who is this serpent? Complete answers are not found in this passage. We are simply told that Yahweh God made him along with all the other “beasts of the land.” We are also told he was the shrewdest of all the beasts. For now it is best to let the text speak for itself and not seek out these answers that are unimportant for what this passage wants to teach.

The word shrewd (‘arum) is a key word in two ways. First, stylistically, it is a verbal play on the word in the previous verse, ‘erom. Thus the pair was nude, and the serpent was shrewd. At the same time it tells the reader that the words of this animal are going to carry extra weight and meaning. Watch out! The question of the serpent is crafty indeed. The uses of the word actually (`aph) in addition to the slight change of God’s statement are what make it so clever. The fact that the serpent begins with a partial truth is going to be continued throughout the story. It awakens doubts and temptations without directly leading the woman astray. The fact that the serpent uses `elohim, instead of Yahweh God as is the habit of the rest of the chapter is also telling in its distancing from God.

The key word of verses two and three is the verb “touch” (naga’). The woman has added something to the command of God. She gets the rest of the command correct and leaves nothing out. Why add this part? Did she add this condition, or did her husband teach her this perversion of God’s command? After all, she was not made when the command was given. Is this the beginning of legalism? It does show how humanity, in an attempt to protect itself from temptation sets up barriers for themselves, and thus misses out on part of God’s plan. The danger is when these self-imposed barriers are broken. Since no sin is committed, no consequences result. But since the legalism taught something as sin that wasn’t, then actual sinning becomes easier.

The phrase translated “surely die” is unusual language. It is really a combination of the infinite absolute, death (moth) with the imperfect verb, literally, “You will die death.” Here the serpent uses the same words used by God in Genesis 2:17, but negates them. Once again in the statements of the serpent we find half-truths. Indeed, when they sin, humanity does not immediately die. Their eyes are opened, and God even says in verse twenty-two that man becomes like Him, just as the serpent said. So at first it seems as though God is the liar. This shows the serpent’s shrewdness. He has taken the human tendency to misunderstand and assume, as well as the overprotective nature of legalism, to get them to question and doubt the word of the Creator. He has sown the seeds for rebellion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Amsterdam Thoughts

The first thing I noticed about Amsterdam was the filth. I don’t mean the legal drugs or the prostitution. I mean the trash. The similarities between German and Dutch had me thinking that the cultures would be similar as well. And, they may be. I don’t think I got a good measure of what the culture was really like. But the trash was everywhere you looked. That was decidedly not Germanic.

Once you get past the trash, and the outrageous prices for public transportation, the city was really pretty. The areas of town with the canals are impressive. And the way the buildings all tilt different ways as though there isn’t a single level in the whole country is quaint.

The real highlight of Amsterdam for us was the Van Gogh Museum. The only other opportunities I have had to see a single artist so thoroughly presented were at special exhibits. Here you had four floors of the work and the life of one man. Whether you like his aesthetic or not, it is fascinating to see his philosophy of art and his technique change and grow over the few years he worked.

Outside of Amsterdam we saw more sites, some more memorable in all likelihood. One afternoon we popped over to Volendam. It is a little fishing village that has become more of a cliché, tourist trap. For all its artificiality, it was really fun. We intentionally parked in a neighborhood known as the Doolhof, which apparently is Dutch for labyrinth. You could certainly get lost in the narrow pedestrian “streets” and drawbridges there.

Finally, we had to go to Haarlem to see the Corrie Ten Boom house. Having grown up as an evangelical in the seventies that is the first thing I think of when I think Holland. It was a little bizarre showing up for our tour and realizing we were surrounded by people from all over the world who were all a part of some sub-set of a smaller sub-set of our sub-culture of evangelicalism. But the story and the history of what went on there is amazing to hear again. It is too bad that this little story is so overlooked by the world at large. And in comparison to the more touted Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it feels a lot more authentic and not as commercialized.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Faith: The Vine and the Branches 2 (John 15:1-8)

Our Purpose in Christ (to bear fruit) vv2-6

Jesus carries this illustration further. He has chosen a plant to illustrate our relationship with Him. Plants, like all living things, have a purpose. They exist—in part, a very important part—to reproduce. That is what Jesus is talking about when He says we need to “bear fruit”. Fruit bearing is not good works, not good living, it is a reproductive act.

He goes so far as to say that those in Him that do not bear fruit are tossed away, and those who do are pruned to become more reproductive. We think the Christian life as all about us. Our joy, our happiness, our plans, our well-being. We pray that God will bless us and help us achieve our goals. Instead it is all about Him. It will bring us those other things (as we will see next month) but the goal is not our little kingdom, but rather God’s.

We have this idea about salvation where we invite Christ into our life. We ask Him in and ask Him to empower us to fulfill our plans. We want success. We want blessing. We want our dreams to be fulfilled. Instead, it is God inviting us into His Kingdom. We surrender the crown of our own little pathetic kingdom, and become a subject in His wonderful one. We become who we were created to be. As such, the greatest purposes in our lives become glorifying God and inviting others into that same wonderful glory.

If your experience as a Christian is not literally contagious, if you are truly sterile as a follower of Christ, you need to ask yourself why that is. What is it about your understanding of Christianity that makes that so? Could it be that all you have is a (false, or incomplete) understanding, and you don’t have a relationship?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Today's Lone Rangers

Reflections on “The Equalizer” and “A Walk among the Tombstones” (2014)

Having access to another country’s Netflix stream last week, I managed to see a couple of movies that seemed interesting at the time they came out, but not enough for me to seek them out. And it was only after watching them that I realized that they were almost the same movie, released at roughly the same time.

“The Equalizer” tells the story of Robert, an ex-black-ops agent who is trying to live a “normal” life. However, the injustices he sees around him, especially when it comes to a teen girl caught up in sex slavery, cause him to revert to his calculating assassin mode of living. In the end, he sees the good that he can accomplish by being who he truly is, and he decides to keep up his vigilante activity.

“A Walk among the Tombstones” is a similar story. Matt is an ex-cop who works as an “unlicensed detective.” When he is approached by a drug dealer to help him find the murderers of his wife, Matt initially declines. However, he soon realizes that he is dealing with some particularly evil serial killers, and evil needs to be stopped even when it is targeting bad people. Matt’s story is interesting beyond the mere action of it all because he is a recovering alcoholic, and the Twelve Step program plays an important role.

This story is one that has fascinated America forever; one man standing against injustice, the lone ranger figure. Why are we so enamored with it? Is it a mistrust of the system, a suspicion that the powers that be are the bad guys? Or is it just a fear that they are incompetent to really help? In a y case, Americans have always been ones to stand up for themselves, take care of their own problems where they can.

But things have changed since the days of the white-hatted cowboy standing for truth and justice. Back then the bad guys were little better than bullies and the good guys might have carried a gun, but no one ever got killed. Today the evil depicted in these fantasies—and the ones we read about in the news—are truly despicable. Unimaginable really. And the good guys are sometimes hard to distinguish from the bad. Their compulsions are just as disturbing; their hunger for violence unsettling. Denzel Washington may never pick up a gun in “The Equalizer,” but he finds even more bloody and painful ways to dispatch his targets.

And yet, we can’t turn our eyes away. Is it the desire to see justice, or a thirst for righteous revenge?

“The Equalizer” is based on a TV series and promises more films to come. Matt Scudder is the star detective of a series of books, most of whom deal with the religious aspects of his hard boiled world. I find myself drawn to more of these stories. I hope that is OK.




Friday, July 15, 2016

Down Side Up

Flat
It’s a mite
More like
It’s quite
You know
Clever
Not so
But we’re

Fat
Out-a-sight
Be right
It might
Best wits
With Your
Read this
When you

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Marriage (Genesis 2:24,25)

Three things jump out of these verses:

One: “leave his father and his mother…”

We see here at the creation of humanity, that the family is also established. Man and woman, father and mother, are needed to accomplish God’s command. The one we saw back in the first account when He created humanity. But this also isn’t a huge, generations-long family even though that is not negated here. We are looking at the nuclear family. A husband, a wife, and their kids. There is importance in each couple striking out and becoming their own special unit.

Two: “…become one flesh.”

Each couple is a unit, the best expression of what humanity can be. Even though each individual is special and God-created for a relationship with Him, humanity is best seen as the blend of male and female. Outside of a select number of people for whom God’s best plan involves remaining single, we are at our best when we are tempered by our “other half.” And, in sin this has become more of a challenge, but the sense was always to yield and benefit from the other perspective. Men and women naturally emphasize different aspects of life, but we need the emphasis of the other half to be at our best.

In some sense, this is a chief concern with homosexuality. For some it is easier to latch on to the “self” to the unchallenging comfort of never being faced with the views and values of the opposite sex. But from the beginning, God’s design has humanity incomplete without both halves, the male and the female. Some rightly say that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s design. It is also a tragic destruction of the wholeness God intended for His people.

Three: “…naked and were not ashamed.”

The key here is the shamelessness, not the nudity. I for one suspect that nudity was not necessarily God’s permanent intention. Just as He wanted humanity to choose good—His way—and not remain merely innocent for all of eternity, He might have planned for us to discover fashion for all the right reasons. Regardless, the issue here is that the man and woman had the perfect relationship. They were perfectly intimate and unreserved, uncomplicated. There were no insecurities, not doubts, no secrets. Later, when sin enters the picture this relationship will be one of the many destroyed and it is a tragedy. How amazing would it be to be able to relate to people in this way today? Even in the best of marriages this is beyond us now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Whodunit

Hundred little wooden detectives
All in a lineup, a row
Like so many board game pieces
Waiting to put on a show
Puzzles constructed wound backwards
Once triggered delights to behold
Will it be cozy or hard boiled?
A noir or more of a period photo?
It doesn’t matter as long as the crime is imaginary
A guilt free adventure, rubber soled

Monday, July 11, 2016

Faith: The Vine and the Branches 1 (John 15:1-8)

Our Relationship to Christ (as branches to the vine) v1, 5a

Jesus uses an illustration to explain our relationship with Him. We are bound to Him, we draw our life from Him. Without Him we were truly dead, and without our connection to Him we would be dead again. This is a clear picture of salvation as a relationship with God, not the discovery of some secret knowledge; not a fact that we accept.

Perhaps some other word-pictures would help us understand the truth being explained, and the misunderstanding we have applied to our salvation.

Understanding food is useless. We must eat. Sometimes we treat the Gospel as a fact that we simply acknowledge. That is like saying that nutrition is something we only recognize as a need, and then we can live without eating. You have to eat to benefit from food!

Or, we see salvation as an invitation only. That is like getting a letter from a VIP wanting to be our friend, and telling everybody we are friends with that VIP, never once interacting with them. The re is no relationship without interaction, regardless of what internet social media would have us think.

If your Christianity is nothing more than an intellectual position, I’m here to tell you that you are fooling yourself. You cannot be a follower of Jesus without following Him. That is so much more than opining that He died for your sins. That death demands a response of total surrender. We turn our selves and the control of our lives over to Him and His will.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Reading the Coens: "Raising Arizona"

The Coen brothers are not Christian artists, but they are masters of their craft. And, while they appear to pay close attention to every detail in their stories and use every subtlety to advance their story, like most postmodern artists, they avoid being too specific about the meaning in their films. So, even though I am bringing my own preconceptions to their work that sees things likely unintended by them, I celebrate truth wherever I find it.

Raising Arizona (1987)

“Now, y'all without sin can cast the first stone.”

The Coen’s second effort is a silly but funny comedy. It is also an interesting look at the longing within sinful humanity to make things right again.

H.I., Hi to his friends, is a man addicted to the “institutional religion” of prison. He longs for the security and familiarity of the structure within the correctional system. That seems to be the real motivation he has for constantly holding up convenience stores with unloaded guns. (He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.) The problem is that the prison system can’t help men like Hi with their sin problem. They have no answers. They also seem to have very little common sense:

-They've got a name for people like you H.I. That name is called "recidivism." Repeat offender! Not a pretty name, is it H.I.?
-No, sir. That's one bonehead name, but that ain't me anymore.
-You're not just telling us what we want to hear?
-No, sir, no way.
-Cause we just want to hear the truth.
-Well, then I guess I am telling you what you want to hear.
-Boy, didn't we just tell you not to do that?
-Yes, sir.
-Okay, then.

But Hi’s multiple stints inlock-up lead him to meet and fall in love with Ed, short for Edwina, a policewoman. He begins to think that maybe the true route to happiness is not through a system, but rather another institution—marriage. And they are happy for a while, experiencing the “salad” days. Until they discover that they can’t have kids. Relationships don’t give us what we need either. Especially when what we think we need is hope in an innocent, untarnished future. The false promise that our kids won’t be the same screw-ups and sinners that we are.

Just as things are about to all fall apart, (Hi finds himself driving past convenience stores that aren’t on the way home, and Ed quits her job) the news informs them that one of the richest couples in the state have just become the proud parents of quintuplets. “It’s more than we can handle!” declares the father. Ed and Hi decide to help out by taking one of the kids to raise as their own.

That is a recurrent theme throughout the movie. People in this story aren’t overtly evil, they just make mistakes by trying to improve their lot in life the easy way. They don’t want to hurt anyone, just take advantage of them a little bit.

Once Hi and Ed set off down the path of kidnappers, everything goes predictably and hilariously south. Ed losses his job by offending his terrible, horrible boss. Some escaped cons and friends of Hi show up on the lamb. And an evil bounty hunter starts to track them down. They manage to save the baby from all the danger, but decide to get the baby back to his rightful parents and go their separate ways.

Once they have repented of their actions, and try to do what is hard but right, rather than easy and convenient, there is a little hope for their future. The father of the baby discovers them returning him to his crib. He offers them the reward money, but they tell him that they just want what’s best for the baby. Hi tells him they have realized that they are terrible people:

Hi -I think the wife and me are splitting up. Her point is that were both kind of selfish and unrealistic, so we're not really good for each other.
Mr. Arizona -Well, ma'am, I don't know much, but I do know human beings. You brought back my boy, so you must have your good points, too. I sure hate to think of Florence leaving me. I do love her so. You can go out the way you came in. Oh, and before you do another foolish thing like busting up, I suggest you sleep on it. At least for one night.

At the end of the film, Hi has one of his prophetic dreams. It is cryptic and we have no reason based on this film to have hope for Hi and Ed, but perhaps their recognition of their problem will help them discover the real source of hope:

I saw an old couple being visited by their children, and all their grandchildren too. The old couple wasn't screwed up, and neither were their kids or their grandkids... And I don't know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality like I know I'm liable to do? But me and Ed, we can be good, too. And it seemed real. It seemed like us, and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away, where all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Stuffage

Man is a squirrel.
Our homes an overstuffed cache.
Or when that don’t suffice
We think it quite nice
To have a second place just for our stash!

Dan did shell out
Over half of his take for the year.
Just to move all his junk
Down to the last trunk
To a hive without the elbowroom near.

When Jim came to die,
What little he’d saved was a treasure.
But once it was appraised,
Sorted and arranged,
It mostly ended up in a dumpster.

Don’t be a squirrel.
Don’t hoard away stuff like it’s something.
What you do want to save
Are memories you pave
As memorials, mementos and trophies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Creation of Woman? (Genesis 2:21-23)

There is a lot of talk, including in Scripture, about the meaning of man being made before woman. There is a lot to be considered there that impacts life, relationships, and family. But before you consider and debate all of those implications…

In the first creation account we simply get the statement that God mad humanity, male and female He made them. In that first account there is no distinction between the two halves of humanity other than they are both there in the creation of mankind. Female is a part—an important part of what it means to be human, So important, in fact, that we get this second account where God allows man to suffer in a “not good” situation for a long time. Long enough for him to realize that he is alone and incomplete.

It is at that point, when the man is suffering in his incompleteness, that God finishes the creation of humanity. And note here that God does not just create the woman. She is not a separate creation; a matching piece. She was already there in the essence of man. She is taken from man. She was already a part of him.

That is something we do not emphasize enough. Maybe it is seen as too obvious, but it merits spelling out. Women are people. Women are not just second-halves. Women are not just help-mates. Women are not just objects fulfilling a purpose subordinate to men. Women are not just sex. Women are individuals created to be in relationship with their Creator just as men are. Perhaps as Christians we need to spend a little less time emphasizing the dangers of women, how NOT to treat women, how NOT to look at women, and more time teaching men to see women as individuals.

This passage is less about the creation of woman and more about the completion of the creation of humanity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Anyone for Space?

Out there the elbow room is vast
The only way to travel is fast
Better pack a light suitcase
There won’t much room on the base

We’ll take off with a wicked blast
On a ship with a superior class
In days we’ll cross the moon’s dark face
And then head out into open space

Less light than dark, a huge contrast
Years later still see Jupiter overcast
Pushing further we’ll lose all trace
Of home, family, the human race

Eventual emptiness will be aghast
It isn’t the promise of scifi enthusiasts
For sheer loneliness we’ll have to brace
That is if life support doesn’t break

And in the end we’ll turn and see
The Earth is smaller than a gleam
Why’d we ever think it’d be fun
To embrace agoraphobia?

Monday, July 4, 2016

"The Prestige" (2006)

Every once a while a trend emerges in Hollywood. Multiple projects about the same subject or theme will coincidentally be released around the same time. Back in 2006 and again in 2013, pairs of magic themed movies were released. In all four cases they were pretty much popcorn fare, even though we got four distinct stylistic approaches to the subject (comic, action, period drama, and sci-fi mystery.)

So I have this ongoing disagreement with my eldest. He thinks “The Presitge” is one of Nolan’s best ever films. For me it is decidedly down on the list. I dislike it quite a bit.

Why? Well, I have tried to decide exactly that—beyond just a gut feeling dislike—for some time now.

My first argument would be that it is unfairly and unnecessarily muddled. Don’t get me wrong, I like an out-of-sequence story as much as the next guy. But in many cases that technique takes a normal story and makes it fun. “Pulp Fiction” for example, has the audience constantly experiencing “aha’ moments as causes to already known effects are revealed. However, in that case and others like it, we aren’t trying to solve a puzzle. We are just enjoying a story come together out of a chaotic presentation. In “The Prestige” we are promised a puzzle, but the only puzzle we get is in the delivery. Told in sequence, there would be no doubts about what is going on. It is a bit of a cheat.

But to be fair, this is both a story about an illusion and a Chris Nolan film, so allowances must be made. In fact, that it is a Nolan film and so relatively obvious has a lot of people trying to complicate it further than needed. But that isn’t the source of my frustration either.

Then there is the apparent flaw in the logic of the story itself. (Spoilers for the story follow if you haven’t seen it. You’ve been warned!) If Jackman’s character is able to clone himself, why not use a clone in the same way that Bale’s character used his twin? According to the story, both the original and the clone have the same mental state and memory. It would even seem a more desirable situation than what Bale’s twins were experiencing. And, there would be no unpleasantness involving a nightly suicide. But that eliminates the “poetic” justice involving the wife’s death at the start of the film and the framed murder element. So that wouldn’t really work thematically.

And the more I think about it that is where my repulsion lies. I understand the desire to tell a story about obsession ruining two (or three) men’s lives. But I can’t stomach the level to which this destruction goes. It is bad enough to think of the twins sacrificing everything for an illusion. But the clone thing asks too much of my mind. And it isn’t just a suspension of disbelief thing—though the concept is not really earned at all in the film. I can’t begin to accept the duplication of a being without any exploration of the soul aspect. Jackman’s Angier is certainly despicable and clearly the villain of the piece. You could perhaps even argue that he is soulless. But this film and the way it awkwardly handles cloning presents us with a completely material world where no one has a soul. For some reason it is a puzzle and a story that for me is a bridge to far for enjoyment.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Loving is Doing (John 14:15-31)

“If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.”

This statement comes on the heels of Jesus telling his followers that they will do greater things then He has done, and that whatever they ask in his name, it will be done. Jesus’ point in this part of his last minute teaching is all about the demonstration of their love for Him through doing what He taught them. And about the supernatural help they would receive to understand and keep his word.

In order to do greater things, they would need power. And it is important to understand that being given whatever is asked for in Jesus name did not grant the ability to manipulate God or accomplish their own agenda. As followers and disciples of the King, they are given power to advance the King’s agenda.

The same applies to us as followers of the King today. There is a huge difference between claiming to be a Christian as some sort of religious worldview that “believes” a story, and someone who truly follows Jesus as Lord. Jesus Himself in this Gospel of John repeatedly distinguished between an understanding that He could improve our condition, and the true trust that leads to new life.

If we love Him, we will keep his word—we will follow his commands.

That is the key difference between the world and Jesus’ people. If we belong to Him, we hear His word and we do what He commands. And that is not a case of better understanding or a greater ability to hear. It is thanks entirely to God Himself.

Jesus taught us that when He left; He sent the Holy Spirit—the Helper—to teach us and remind us of everything He taught. To enlighten us to all Jesus’ commands. This is why Jesus’ people are able to know Him and the world can’t even begin to see Him. On our own, we are helpless.

But surrendered to Jesus, we have the help we need—beyond our own abilities—to do what God wants. And doing is loving.
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